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App Camp for Girls is Coming to Chicago

App Camp for Girls is making a big jump geographically this summer. The camp for middle schoolers who self-identify as female, trans (regardless of identity), or gender non-conforming, was founded in 2013 by Jean MacDonald and Grey Osten in Portland, Oregon to address the gender imbalance in technology professions. Since then, App Camp has started camps in other cities including Seattle and Phoenix, but the debut of a camp in Chicago, Illinois this summer marks the first time a camp has been held east of the Mississippi River.

App Camp for Girls is a one-week program during which the campers design and build an iOS app in small teams led by industry role models. There’s a lot more to App Camp then pure coding, though. The program creates a safe, comfortable environment for campers to learn how to think like a programmer, design and build an app, and then pitch it to a panel of volunteers who play the role of prospective investors. By the end of the week, each kid will have worked on a few apps including a quiz app that App Camp for Girls publishes to the App Store.

Starting a camp is no small undertaking. I spoke with Jessi Chartier, who is leading the effort to bring Chicago’s camp to life July 24 - 28. Jessi, who is well-known in the Chicago tech community, is the Director of Programs at MobileMakersEdu where she trains teachers and helps them build curricula to bring computer science programs into high schools. She, along with a group of individuals, local businesses, and the App Camp parent organization, has been working for months to organize Chicago’s camp.

The efforts started in early 2016. New camps are supported by the App Camp executive team in Portland, Oregon, who will be on hand for the Chicago camp this summer and supply the equipment necessary to run the camp. So the first step was to find a date for the camp that worked for everyone involved.

Each camp also requires the recruitment of volunteers, fundraising, and donations from local businesses. Since dates for the camp were picked, Jessi and her team have been working to raise awareness of the upcoming camp in the Chicago tech community contacting groups like Women Who Code, NSCoder Chicago, Chicago CocoaHeads, Chicago Public Schools, and various city officials, which has paid off. Among the volunteers at the Chicago camp are Rachel Schneebaum a developer at Earlybird Software who will be the camp’s lead iOS developer and Erica Roberts, a computer science teacher who will serve as the camp’s emcee. The camp’s team leads are Jen Kelley of Reverb, iOS freelancer Shelly Burke, and Angela Dyrda, a developer at Grid Connect. In addition, the camp will be held in a space donated by 8th Light, a local software consulting firm. Patrick McCarron of Trunk Club is helping line up camp sponsors.

Registration for the inaugural Chicago camp is now open. Students heading for 8th grade in the fall can register on the App Camp for Girls website. There are only twelve spots available for this first camp, so readers who know someone in the Chicago area that might be interested are encouraged to apply soon.

As a Chicagoan, it’s exciting to see App Camp for Girls coming to my city. I’ve followed the work of Jean and Grey since the organization’s earliest days as an Indiegogo project, and it’s been encouraging to see so many people in the Apple community support the important work that App Camp is doing.

One of the goals of App Camp for Girls is to make its camps as affordable as possible, but it can only do that through the generosity of people in the community. If you would like to make a contribution, you can do so on the App Camp for Girls website.

Other ways you can help are by buying the App Camp for Girls Quiz Compendium app. The app costs just $0.99 and proceeds go to supporting future camps. In addition, WWDCGirls is throwing a fundraiser for App Camp at WWDC again this year featuring James Dempsey and the Breakpoints if you plan to be in San Jose this year. Chicagoans can get involved with the new local camp too by volunteering on the App Camp for Girls website or contacting Jessi Chartier directly at chicago@appcamp4girls.com.

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